October. In this period, in the wake of the demonstration on the 15th in Rome, a polemic is underway between the supporters of peaceful demonstrations and a minority that upholds and practices violence. I think that both are right, if only in maintaining that the other’s methods are inadequate. The upholders of peaceful demonstrations deem that breaking banks’ windows, burning garbage bins, setting fire to the police’s armored vehicles, and (even worse) lighting up the cars of ordinary citizens, is useless. And they are right. The supporters of violence sustain that holding a large demonstration from time to time in the hope that a better government will appear is useless. And they, too, are right.
The fact is that the contest is taking place elsewhere. Berlusconi is about to be toppled, everybody is saying it and everybody knows it, but everybody is getting ready to compromise in order to form another government which, in substance, would not very different from the current one. And the European situation is not much better than the Italian one.
After the violent outbursts on the 15th, sectors of both the opposition and the ruling coalition have unanimously suggested that the Reale law, which was enacted in the 1970s, be reinstated. The Reale law authorized the use of firearms on the part of the police simply in order to keep the peace (i.e. at demonstrations). It authorized searches without a court warrant. And arrests also in the absence of flagrant violation of the law. It has been assessed that the Reale law caused 625 victims. The Red Brigades killed 86 individuals.
Personally, I don’t believe it is right to demonize those who practice violence. There will be some infiltrators from the police amongst them, but that is normal. Nor am I scandalized that there are right-wing individuals in their ranks, or people who only want to rough others up, people who frequent soccer stadiums. They are exasperated folk, I was like that myself as a young person. Rather, it is a comparison with the fluidity, the intelligence, the ubiquity of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators that makes these sectors that theorize violence seem coarse, just as it does the neo-anarchists who are starting to plant bombs again.
A Brecht opera often comes to my mind: The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui. Hitler could have been stopped. And he wasn’t. Mussolini, too, could have been stopped. And Berlusconi could have been as well. In these years, Berlusconi has been on the verge of being toppled several times, and he has always been saved, on various occasions, by an ex-communist.
November. Berlusconi has been toppled. The day he handed in his resignation to the President of the Republic, outside of the Quirinal Palace there were the orchestra and the chorus of the Permanent Musical Resistance movement (one of the many anti-Berlusconian movements) who performed Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Subsequently, Monti was welcomed with the almost general consensus of the population.
The interesting thing is that no one knew (except the insiders, and even they not so precisely) what Monti’s program was. He was the savior. The favorable welcome given to him made me think of the welcome Rome reserved for Hitler in 1938. A friend of mine, who is writing a novel and reading up on the subject, told me that the Roman people, who at the time were rather poor, welcomed Hitler like a Messiah, with delirious enthusiasm. I don’t want to compare Monti to Hitler, but only to highlight the degree of blind faith, the extent to which things can be assumed about an individual in moments of difficulty. Mariano Rajoy won the elections in Spain without making his program known, because he conducted a generic electoral campaign, saying only that, with him, Spain would have come out of the crisis. Di Pietro questioned Monti before he was elected to Parliament, asking him what his program was. Then he wrote in an interview: I posed him questions and he would smile. And fail to reply.
December. Monti’s program is that of Europe, the one the IMF has been proposing to the world over the past few years and that has failed to yield any result other than that of making of few persons more rich and everybody else poorer. Monti’s consensus is dropping rapidly. Demonstrations and strikes are flaring. The various unions have joined forces again. Many economists of his same political area have criticized him. It’s not a question of the Indignados in particular, who in Italy have failed, for the time being at least, to provide a constant and daily movement as they did in the United States and in Spain; but of a myriad of demonstrations, picket lines, occupations in which workers are participating in great numbers and women are very present as well. What is poking about in people’s heads and, from time to time, appears on the internet or in the papers is the phantasm of Argentina, which managed to free itself, thanks to a great mobilization, from the hold of the IMF – that had taken it to the cleaners – and is now recovering. More than a phantasm, a suggestion. There is a deep sense of disappointment and an atmosphere of great exasperation.
What is striking is that the political situation, in Italy and elsewhere, expresses a series of paradoxes, in which all previous schemata have been turned upside down, destroyed. The right steals words from the left. It starts to use terms employed by the left, such as, for example, social butchery. Norma Rangeri, in the daily “Il Manifesto”, speaks of “mayonnaise gone mad”, of a “reversal of roles”. People who have played ball with democracy, who have passed catastrophic, false electoral laws, who have touted citizens with false promises and television monopolies, today are protesting and denouncing a coup d’état on the sly. Squalid characters and turncoats of the previous government accuse the Monti government of being the government of the banks. In Bologna, Merola, the left-wing mayor, had the Arcobaleno movie theatre, which had been occupied by the Indignados, cleared immediately, while in Rome the neo-fascist mayor Alemanno did not have the courage to clear the Valle theatre, which had also been occupied for some time. The ultimate paradox is that people are everywhere purporting to amend the faults of liberalism by means of liberalist policies. At the international level, one might deem paradoxical the fact that Germany, and not Greece, is the country that poses the greatest danger to Europe.
In Egypt, the fans of Cairo’s two main soccer teams united in order to defend the population from the attacks of the army during the demonstrations. Those fan clubs have a long tradition of clashes with the police. The paradox is that up till now soccer fan clubs had been thought of as phenomena that fell outside of the democratic ballpark, an expression of right- and left-wing extremism, and especially of hooliganism; whereas now, “paradoxically”, in Egypt they are part of a process that beckons democracy.
All these paradoxes go to prove that the old schemata do not apply any more, and the Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street protesters, are a part of this breakdown of schemata. They are not one of the many protest movements. There are at least two elements that distinguish them: the first is rebellion against what the world is becoming; the second is distrust in the institutions that uphold the res publica, as well as in the movements and parties that claim to be the opposition. A search for something new in underway, therefore, for a new kind of participation, for a participation that is real and based, above all, on the refusal of rule by proxy; not least because there are no longer points of reference as there were in the past. The not-in-the-least-bit-wrong impression is that the ruling classes and the privileged ones constitute a single block, with differences between them that are insubstantial and very small.
If the economy is globalized, the protest movements are becoming globalized as well. I have the feeling that, after years of stagnation, a new historical phase of revolutionary events has already been born. I believe that one should consider as one and the same, not only the movements of the Indignados proper or those of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but also all of the popular struggles of the peoples in the Arab countries, the demonstrations in Russia, and everything that is moving in the world. This new phase, still headless, is of potentially immense strength. We cannot foresee the means by which something will come out of it, or the nature that it will have; but one thing is certain: these movements have urgency as a common characteristic. We are on the edge of a precipice: at the root of these demonstrations there is not only the fact that the young are without work and without a future; at bottom, there is the idea that the world is dying, or, to be more precise, that the human species has actually begun to destroy itself.
The problems of the era in which we live have their origin in the fall of Real Socialism. In the failure of the Real Socialist regimes. We have no longing for those bureaucratic and oppressive regimes; but the end of an antagonist movement, of an antagonist oppression, has cleared the field of all obstacles to the forces of capitalism, which, through so-called globalization, has reintroduced slavery into the world, discriminated against the young, rendered peoples miserable, bestowed upon financial interests an enormous power and created that gap between the 1 and the 99 percent that the Occupy Wall Street protesters rightly talk about. Marx, by the way, had predicted all this.
According to recent poll, 80% of the population in Italy does not trust the world of politics. In the United States, 49% of young people have a positive view of socialism. But there is something (perhaps my age) that makes me pessimistic. It is from the failure of Real Socialism, I believe, that one must start. That failure represents an original sin that weighs like a nightmare on the brain of these movements. Basically, all the arguments which say: we are the 99%, you are the 1%, or, as an Italian labor union representative recently said, we are the rowers, you are the passengers, should lead to a logical conclusion: the abolition of private property. Why is it difficult to come to such a conclusion? Precisely because of the original sin of the failure of Real Socialism (of its failure, not of its defeat, from which one might recover). Stalinism produced more damage and more victims than Nazism. Not least because it prevented a revolutionary movement from expanding. Nor does the Chinese example help one to be optimistic… Nor does that of Cuba, unfortunately. Nor does the example of the various socialist regimes that have lived ephemeral experiences in Africa and elsewhere. At heart, the strength that has accrued to political movements of Muslim extraction is due to the fact that those movements were born on the ruins of the bankrupt socialist regimes, and that the pre-capitalist solidarity of a feudal type that characterizes them – which is financed, moreover, with the proceeds from the sale of petroleum – appeared to be a much more effective bastion against the domination of global capitalism.
Maybe something that is happening in South America may be considered an example of a positive and interesting mediation. Maybe. I was very struck, in any event, by the importance that is attributed to culture and to poetry in certain South American countries. It gave me the impression of a society that was still able to invest in dreams, in hopes, in future goals, and also in that element of utopianism that in time can lead to accomplishment, whereas we Europeans have remained all curled up in the attempt not to lose the old privileges that, in any case, we are losing. The economic crisis of the USA-Europe system is systemic, it has no solution, and, as far as Europe is concerned, there aren’t countries that are virtuous and ones that are not; the crisis began in the weaker countries and does not spare the stronger ones, it has already touched France and Germany; and one of the paradoxes of the current situation is precisely that today, as far as the standing of the Euro is concerned, Germany, with Merkel’s policies, is more dangerous than Greece.
Of course, the breakdown of all schemata can lead to unpredictable situations, theorizations, or contingencies. But I, personally, am pessimistic. I am pessimistic because the failure of all movements based upon historicism has led me to reconsider certain categories that may be grouped under the obsolete term « human nature”. And the study of history, amongst other things, and in particular the failure of the Soviet experience and all its offshoots, has confirmed to me that which, today, lies in front of our eyes: there is a fault in the way human beings are designed. The only name I can find for this fault in our design is a Greek term: hubris, which in English is commonly translated as “arrogance”. From a quick search on in the internet I learned that hubris is lack of proportion, extreme haughtiness, going too far. In Homer the word referred mostly to disobedience and rebellion against the prince; in later epochs, it came to mean man’s challenging of the gods. ὕβρις is a technical term in Greek tragedy and literature that appears in Aristotle’s Poetics… It literally means “impertinence”, “excess”, “arrogance”, “pride” or “prevarication”. To our modern eyes it might mean the breakup of a classical order proper to Greek civilization.
Hubris is an apt expression for what I have in mind, and the fact that it leads to tragedy according to the Greeks fits well with the situation in which we are living, which is clearly that of a slowly unfolding tragedy. If one believes in the hubris that lies in man one pulls the veil off of the naïveté that lies in the thought of Marx and perhaps even more in that of Marxists: namely that a rational society is possible when the productive forces are capable of ensuring the satisfaction of everyone’s needs. “When goods will be available to all, as today would be possible, there will no longer be any need to steal, to prevaricate, machines will do everything, we will be able to have a society that is rational and conflict free” (this is not a quotation, it is a summary of what used to be a widespread belief). In the name of this credence, socialism was fought for and believed to be scientific, but it seems that history has not confirmed the theory. Trotsky explained the origin of bureaucracy in the USSR in terms of the Soviet Union’s isolation and backwardness, but in light of what happened subsequently (and also in light of what happened before, if we glance back at history) there is more to it. In plain words, there is no limit to human greed and destructiveness. It is an unstoppable, uncontrollable, irrational impulse.
The term “life”, organic life, according to an old analysis I read when I was young, means that life is that which is born, reproduces, and dies, and cannot continue to live if it does not destroy other life. Namely, if it does not “eat”. Human beings eat, like all other animals; but they don’t stop there. Human greed, unlike that of animals, is unstoppable. And it is this fault in our design that is leading us to self-destruction and runs the risk of causing us to last less than the dinosaurs. Perhaps, or rather surely, it is precisely human beings’ creative capacity that is the tool, the driving force of this insatiable destructiveness, the basis that allows such greed to be satisfied; it seems, however, that there is no limit to it. And in this period all limits have been breached.
Power reproduces itself everywhere, in every circumstance, in every form of human gathering or relation. Maybe (some say so) even within the current movements. There are those who say that, within these movements, there are already new leaders who go well out of their way to obtain visibility: it might be true or, in any case, plausible.
All revolutions have had their Bonapartism. This is particularly clear today, after enormous forces and efforts and tensions on the part of the better part of humanity have led to obscene and terrifying results. All revolutions have ended in great historical arrangements that have led to the creation of new hierarchies of power and new tools of power. Starting with the Christian revolution. The English Revolution, born in the name of ever-so-noble ideals, led to the participation of England in the slave trade, to the oppression of Ireland, marked the beginning of English intervention in India, and laid the foundations for the expansion of British colonialism in the Nineteenth Century. The French Revolution gave way in a matter of a few years to the Napoleonic empire. And so on…
Whoever is powerful wants to be extremely powerful. Whoever is rich wants to be extremely rich. The unchecked and unhindered dominion of financial capitalism is leading the world to self-destruction. The failure of the various conferences on climate change is the clearest expression of how this irrational violence is incapable of keeping itself in check. The No Global activists in Seattle, the Indignados, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, everyone who is trying to struggle for their own and other people’s survival by subverting the old schemata and starting from scratch, by trying to create new forms that disregard the “progressive” movements of old in all their various guises, they are the saints of our time. But I think humankind can only be saved by a new religion. Because we eat meat.
The survey of revolutions that have given rise to new power structures suggests that, perhaps, the only revolutions that have succeeded are cultural ones. For this reason, I who am secular, atheistic or, most assuredly, a non-believer, think that only a new religion, a religion without God – who, by now, is dead – a nonreligious cultural revolution disguised as a religion, might save humanity. If such a thing is at all possible. And if it is worth the effort. Because it is only at the irrational level that one might be able to act. In theory, using the technical means that are available, the problems of the world could be solved in a week’s time. I give you this, you give me that. I give this up, you give that up. In the Abruzzi region of Italy, when gamekeepers are forced to kill a bear, because it is bothersome, goes into houses, is dangerous, they put a bit of grass into its mouth. They give it something to eat. They ask it forgiveness for having killed it. I kill you so as not to be killed, because I have to eat, but I ask your forgiveness. Human beings do not ask nature for forgiveness. What has disappeared is a sense of the sacred. To put a bit of grass into the mouth of a bear is to feel compassion, to experience pain for having killed it. To feel that, at bottom, one’s survival is a sin. Hubris is exactly the opposite of all this.
The idea of religion as a new sociality, which replaces the idea of socialism, is a return to the Middle Ages, when the sacredness of the king was the basis for the formation of the national monarchies. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s better than nuclear war… and these ideas are absolutely out of fashion. And so as to be even more out of fashion, I would suggest that we go back to a feeling of guilt. To feeling guilty, not for having been derelict in the duty to be chaste or to obey established authority, but in the duty to bear respect. Respect for bears, of course.
Translated from Italian by Nail Chiodo.
Read this text in Italian version.
Carlo Bordini’s texts on this site:
From the collected poems published by Luca Sossella.